Tokyo Godfathers Anime Review
US Release By
Three homeless friends find an infant in a dumpster on Christmas Eve. Much hilarity and poignancy ensue as they try to find the baby girl's parents.
Inspired by John Ford's Three Grandfathers, the Satoshi Kon movie Tokyo Godfathers is a compelling story of three homeless people on a search for the parents of an abandoned baby girl found in a dumpster on Christmas Eve. Although the events that propel this anime are somewhat unlikely and maybe too coincidental, it's easy for the viewer to suspend disbelief because the story unfolds well. The bumbling, unconventional characters make the movie progress smoothly from its brisk beginning through an engaging buildup and climax to its amusing resolution. Along the way, the film goes from comedic to poignant and back again, portraying the best and worst - and weirdest - aspects of human nature.
The three homeless protagonists are heavy-drinking middle-aged man Gin, the homosexual transvestite Hana, and teenage girl Miyuki. As the tagline says, they are the "ultimate dysfunctional family," and this is part of what makes them so unique and oddly charming. The dynamics between these three are real, human, and at times downright entertaining. Despite their myriad differences and disagreements, however, they are indeed a family of sorts, and this fact comes through many times during the movie.
Of course, this is not to say that Gin, Hana, and Miyuki don't shine individually. Each one of the three has his or her own share of time in the spotlight. Through artfully placed memories, stories, and subtle interpersonal interactions, the viewer comes to learn about - and appreciate - the flawed heroes. One such revelatory scene I found striking because the insight took place during a halting, fumbling interaction between two people who had no mutual language; despite (or perhaps because of) the crippled communication between the two, this scene was the most informative in regards to Miyuki's past. I'd also like to make a note here that it would also be helpful to know some Spanish - whenever Spanish is spoken in the movie, the English subtitles disappear. However, since the speakers are mostly saying basic conversational statements and the Spanish comes up only rarely, bilingualism is certainly not required in order to understand the larger picture.
Tokyo Godfathers' animation was very fluid, the drawings clean and lines smooth. I think it's worth noting that the characters, especially Hana, had the most comically exaggerated facial expressions, and those expressions only added to the overall hilarity. I should also mention that the shots of downtown Tokyo were stunning! The realistic detail had my eyes running all over the screen so I could get a look at mundane objects like a cooking pot or a book.
I was pleased with the voice acting - each actor matched very well with his or her role, bringing life to each character. The actors had good, believable chemistry, which might have been a large part of what made the movie so enjoyable - never mind the fact that I don't know a word of Japanese!
Highlighting the entire work was the music composed by Keiichi Suzuki. The movie used a wide selection of songs, ensuring no repetition, and while these songs to me weren't anything to inspire a frantic search for the soundtrack, they all fit well and with good timing.
All in all, Tokyo Godfathers was definitely worth the money I spent on it - hardly surprising, given the fact that it was directed by Kon. It's a good movie to watch in a cozy setting with friends or family - especially during the holidays. A bit fast-paced, but in the end this movie is a work that is goofy, heartbreaking, and ultimately endearing.
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Notes and Trivia
Sony's site for the DVD includes video clips from several scenes and a synopsis. The Official Film Site is also very nice; it has images, information, commentary, and biographies of the cast and crew (as well as photos, for those wondering what the actors behind the voices look like). On the topic, none of the three leads is known as a voice actor, although Yoshiaki Umegaki (Hana's voice) is a very well known TV personality in Japan.
The date listed in the info box is the wide Japanese theatrical release date; the film premiered a few months earlier at international film festivals. It also saw limited theatrical release in the US at the beginning of 2004.
US DVD Review
The sub-only DVD (no dub exists) offers English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles to go with the crisp anamorphic widescreen video transfer and Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. Extras consist of the theatrical trailer and a nice live-action "making of" short with interviews and commentary.
The material is a little rough, accounting for its PG-13 rating.
Violence: 2 - There are brief moments of realistic violence.
Nudity: 2 - Some completely non-erotic nudity of a nursing mother.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Some mild mature themes.
Language: 2 - Some rough language and derogatory comments in the subtitles.